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Art start-up puts a face to stories

November 6, 2018 GMT

Houston-based start-up Tellinga is taking images and stories from customers’ heads and sending them to their mailboxes.

“With Tellinga, we’re the main characters in our own mailbox movie,” said founder Alex Kurkowski of the unique company.

Last year, Kurkowski, a native of The Woodlands, started sending his family and friends bits of an epistolary — an antique form of storytelling best known as serialized novels in the 19th century.

His epistolaries took the form of drawings that were sent panel by panel over a period of days or weeks in an effort to keep in touch with loved ones and brighten up their days by leaving a little surprise in their mailboxes.


“When you have a full-time job and you’re in grad school, you don’t have a whole lot of free time,” Kurkowski said. “It became somewhat of a hobby, but more of a joke.”

Amid long work days and binge study sessions, the pharmacy sales representative and Rice University MBA candidate started Tellinga in June to turn his hobby into a product that could bring the same satisfaction to customers around the country.

The process is fairly straightforward, Kurkowski said. A customer — fo example, a boyfriend looking for a personalized gift for his girlfriend or a parent trying to make their child’s day a bit brighter — goes to the website and submits a commission that’s then handed over to one of Tellinga’s 16 contracted artists.

From there, the work is entirely customizable. The customer can choose the genre, length of the story, from one day to one month, a movie-like rating and a description with character names, plot points and photos.

“They’re telling us, basically, to create a story and we’re sending it out piece by piece,” Kurkowski said.

For the artists — art students at Rice, the University of Houston or Lone Star College-Montgomery — working at Tellinga is a way to create and promote their own brand. There are rules, Kurkowski said, but only a few, and artists are free to define their own style in the stories.

“(Tellinga) gives them that avenue to get their start and make a brand,” he said. “Then life takes them from there.”

Patrick Medina, who is a College Park High School alumni who works at Tellinga, is transferring from Lone Star College-Montgomery to the Savannah College of Art and Design — one of the best art schools in the country — to major in illustration.

Working at Tellinga, Medina said, allows him to work on putting a face to other peoples’ ideas and stories. Working on someone else’s story, Medina said, allows the artists to also practice putting emotion into their work.

“It’s a really nice, sentimental thing that you’re sending out to someone,” Medina said.

For now, Kurkowski said, Tellinga is working to find its niche in the gift industry. The name in itself tells potential customers all they need to know.

“Tellinga — like telling a story,” he said.